Review: ENSIFERUM – “Thalassic”. Thalassic Metal?

Band photo credits: Vesa Ranta

Hello SKULL NEWS. Let’s talk about a band I didn’t expect to write about: ENSIFERUM, viking-themed Melodic Death/Folk Metal hailing from Finland. They just released a new album, Thalassic, on July 10, through METAL BLADE RECORDS. The band has been brewing its epic blend of metal for 25 years now, and have had some important line-up changes and stylistic developments over the course of their career. Let’s see what this new disc is about.

What I meant when I wrote that I didn’t expect to talk about a band like ENSIFERUM, is that I don’t really listen to this style of metal much. I used to listen to that band a lot in my mid-teen years, and they have played an important role, introducing me to more extreme metal, but their last album I’ve really listened to is From Afar (yeah, that’s 2009). In-between, we got Unsung Heroes, One Man Army and Two Paths. I always listen to the new releases of bands that were important in my younger years, even when I don’t listen to them as much as before. I’m always curious to see what they’re up to at the present time. I must admit that I did not like that much those three albums, even if I do remember some nice songs off of them, but they had not the charm that got me into it when I was a kid (that’s just my opinion, of course).

But when Thalassic was announced, I had to check that album. As the title implies, the theme around the new release is the sea (Thalassa means “sea” in Greek, and was a primordial spirit associated with it). Since I’ve been working on metal music and the sea at university, this album fell right into my research subjects.

Listen to “Rum, Women, Victory“, the first single we had before release, before reading any further:

I was quite amazed when I heard this single, because it felt fresh and at the same time it reminded me of the ENSIFERUM I loved as a kid. Fast rhythms, epic melodic/power metal guitar riffs, I knew right away that I would enjoy the band’s new sound!
This song introduced a new voice on clean vocals, Pekka Montin, the band’s new keyboardist, who also sings cleans. His high voice fits extremely well the power metal vibe the songs on the album harbor. And he is not just a backing vocalist, the album is very well balanced between harsh and clean vocals, so Pekka right away gained its place into ENSIFERUM‘s trademark sound. With a voice like his, no wonder he’s been involved in classic heavy metal, check his band JUDAS AVENGER.

The 2020 line-up is thus made of:

Markus Toivonen: Guitars, Backing Vocals
Sami Hinkka: Bass, Backing Vocals
Petri Lindroos: Harsh Vocals, Guitars
Janne Parviainen: Drums, Percussion
Pekka Montin: Keyboards, Clean Vocals

Now that this is out of the way, we can start to discuss the new songs of the album. First, though, check the album cover, created by Gyula Havancsák, who had already worked on the band’s two previous releases.

https://www.metal-archives.com/images/8/4/6/8/846835.jpg?2514

Here’s the tracklist of Thalassic:

1. Seafarer’s Dream
2. Rum, Women, Victory
3. Andromeda
4. The Defence of the Sampo
5. Run from the Crushing Tide
6. For Sirens
7. One With the Sea
8. Midsummer Magic
9. Cold Northland (Väinämöinen Part III)
10. Merille Lähtevä (Limited Edition Bonus Track)
11. I’ll Stay By Your Side (The Lollipops Cover – Limited Edition Bonus Track)

The album’s maritime themes are taken from both Greek and Finnish Mythology, and the more general adventurous topics one can associate with travel and battle at sea. The title of the album, Thalassic, as well as songs like “Andromeda” and “For Sirens” refer to Greek myths, while “The Defence of the Sampo” and “Cold Northland” are direct references to the Kalevala, a famous Finnish epic poem first published in 1835, which retells oral traditions and myths from Finnish folklore.
Let’s dive down into the Finnish sea and see four ourselves what these songs are about.

1. Seafarer’s Dream

This is an instrumental introduction to the album, which portrays well the spirit of sailors and land dwellers alike. I love mentioning Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, so I’ll do it again just for the sake of it. The narrator explains in the first chapter of the novel how humans are inexorably attracted to the sea. So, with this mindset, mariners are the next logical level of human evolution. They go to sea, on a quest to unknown lands, mysterious treasures, and to discoveries of beasts long forgotten. The seaman’s will to go at sea is the definition of the inextinguishible love that people who have grown close to the ocean hold for it. This passion is unmistakably present in this album, which makes me believe that this introduction is perfect, and represents well this idea of dream.

2. Rum, Women, Victory and 3. Andromeda

I’ve already talked a little about the second track earlier. It’s a great power metal hymn, with its typical lyrics oriented towards bravery and fighting and catchy melodies surmounted by an adventurous chorus.
Andromeda follows as a slightly slower power metal song, articulated around the narrator’s Queen, Andromeda. Time for Greek mythology class! Andromeda was the Princess of the Kingdom of Kush, along the Nile river. The lyrics of the songs refer to how she bragged about her beauty and claimed that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, the sea nymphs. Posedion, the god of the sea, was displeased and decided to punish the whole Kingdom by sending a sea monster to destroy the coast. King Cepheus offered his daughter Andromeda as a sacrifice to appease the gods. The song is all about these events, and focuses on the princess, who in the eyes of the narrator, will live forever and never disappear, while all the rest fades away in time.

4. The Defence of the Sampo

Another song that sounds very much like heavy/power metal, stylistically speaking. This one departs from Greek mythology to explore an element from the Kalevala. The Sampo was an item forged by Ilmarinen, a legendary blacksmith, that was supposed to bring wealth and luck. It was stolen, and then, people were sent to retrieve it. The song tells about a battle, which is the one that was fought in order to get it back. However, in the original text, the Sampo was lost during the fight and fell deep down in the sea.

5. Run from the Crushing Tide

A fast-paced song, in-between melodic death metal and power metal, about a couple whose whole environment tries to tear apart. The chorus of the song repeats again and again that they must run away. We could say that this is a song about freedom, more than anything. None should feel compelled to not do something dear to one’s heart because people around disagree. So, as the songs explains, don’t listen to those who don’t believe in what you want, and make your own dreams true by your own two hands, whether it’s in love, work, passions, anything.

6. For Sirens

And now we’re back with Greek mythology in this slower, heavy metal song. Sirens are half-bird half-human creatures that are said to bewitch sailors with their songs. After said bewitchement, they kill their prey. Now I’m wondering if the bird-like creature on the album cover could be such a siren. The most famous appearace of sirens in Greek literature is probably the moment in Homer’s Odysseus in which in which the character of the same name (Ulysses in Latin), on his way back to his Island of Ithaca after the Trojan War, passes by the island of Sirens. They sing to attract the men, but they were warned of the monsters and had put wax in their ears, while Odysseus was bound to the ship’s mast. The song is about that bewitchment episode.

7. One with the Sea

Another slow one, that feels like a mixture of traditional heavy metal and a ballad. The lyrics seem to tell of the wreckage of a crew, adrift in the cold sea. It counts the end of a journey, the moment in which, as the title implies, falling unto the seabed, sailors finally become one with the sea. The vocals and atmosphere are very sorrowful, the death of those men being the result of their inability to stop their neverending quest for battle.

8. Midsummer Magic

After the previous sad song comes a shorter one, quite more playful and happier. The most folk metal song on the record. It is a fine example of party song, about one of the greatest feasts in Nordic traditions. Midsummer (around the solstice) is the moment to celebrate Ukko, the pagan god of harvests in Finnish mythology. So, don’t forget to have a drink and eat some fine food while listening to that one!

9. Cold Northland (Väinämöinen Part III)

Well, you can’t imagine how happy I was to hear this song.
Please, have a listen:

It’s the longest on the record, and the one that closes all regular editions of the album. We’re back to the Kalevala, Väinämöinen being the main character of the epic poem. You may wonder about the “Part III” thing. Part I and II do exist, and long-time fans of the band may remember them, as they are on ENSIFERUM‘s self-titled first album, which was released in 2001, and were also recorded on their first demos in 1997 and 1999. So, more than 20 years later, you get part III!
This song portrays everything I loved in older songs I used to listen to as a teenager. All the epicness they learned to produce infused in one song, furious speed and extreme metal madness (blast beats! I don’t think they’ve been this fast in any song in a while), vocals that oscillate from harsh to cleans perfectly until the end. The song closes on sounds of waves while everything fades, which reminds us why we’re here, the sea! Lyrically, I’m no expert in the Kalevala, but it seems to be praising the northland’s beauty, its nature and landscapes, while the main character goes at sea with a heavy heart towards other lands.

To conclude, I’d say that ENSIFERUM‘s Thalassic will certainly reunite old and new fans under the same banner. I’m certain that a lot of its songs will stay in the band’s live setlists for a while.

Now, I’ll get to another point, related to some elements of the metal scene, that I thought about before writing this. My main subject of research has been oriented around the sea in literature and metal music. Quite a few bands use the ocean as their main theme backing their whole universe. I’ve already written something about AHAB on SKULL NEWS, but I could also cite bands like THE OCEAN COLLECTIVE, DROWN, ATLANTIS CHRONICLES, SUNKEN or GIANT SQUID. Some other bands like MASTODON, SULPHUR AEON and now ENSIFERUM may not use the sea in all releases, but have released one significant album whose subject was the depths of the ocean.
In literature, studies have named a genre to classifiy books with maritime themes. Those studies were often focused on 19th century literature (and included authors like Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, Jules Verne or Samuel Taylor Coleridge, among others), yet the genre is definitely timeless. The usual term used is “nautical fiction/literature”. As I had been writing about the correlation between 19th century nautical literature and metal music, I chose to dub this thematic genre as “nautical metal”, using the same adjective that had already been in use for a long time among literature scholars. That’s an adjective that AHAB has already used to qualify their own music. And so, the naming of this already existing subgenre was written down by none other than myself. Just as with “pirate metal”, “space metal” or “viking metal”, subgenres can be partly qualified through thematic ideas, added to musical styles.

There is one main problem, though. My work was an effort written by a lonely scholar for a very limited audience. While I’m of course free to create a new typology in my scholarly circle, I’m not the one who decides what the community names or not. There have been many bands writing songs and albums about the ocean. It feels only legitimate that this theme could be considered as a subgenre.
Considering ENSIFERUM is a big and famous band, with a huge worldwide fanbase, the adjective “thalassic” could actually become a thing. If other bands feel inspired and compelled to write about the sea, while a big name in the metal scene writes an album entitled Thalassic, then the fans (or bands themselves) could end up using this moniker as an actual name for a subgenre.
So, my main thought when I heard about this new album was: “Shall we witness the birth of “thalassic metal” as a genre?” That’s for the metal scene to decide. I will leave you on these last words, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on the subject.

Stay safe and see you next time! While you wait, though, don’t forget to buy the album through METAL BLADE RECORDS, or any nice record store close to your home!

ENSIFERUM on Facebook
ENSIFERUM on Instagram
ENSIFERUM on YouTube
ENSIFERUM on Spotify
ENSIFERUM on Twitter
ENSIFERUM on Bandcamp
METAL BLADE RECORDS‘ online shop

See you soon on SKULL NEWS! Next time I’ll write about black metal!

-Hakim


Hakim

I love black metal, and I love fish. That may seem unrelated to music, but you may sooner or later understand that there's a link between the two. I will write on Skull News review articles and other stuff, I hope you'll enjoy them. And by the way, I'm French !

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert.

*

Diese Website verwendet Akismet, um Spam zu reduzieren. Erfahre mehr darüber, wie deine Kommentardaten verarbeitet werden.